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Underage marriage

Sir: It was recently reported that the police raided and arrested nine people, including a registered nikah khawan (marriage registrar), in connection to a watta-satta (tribal custom of exchanging brides between two families) near Jhang. The police raid was carried out after the wedding ceremony of a 5-year-old girl to a 25-year-old groom, whose sister was to be married off to the father of the girl child in exchange, took place.

We have child protection laws against underage marriage. The law has been present since 1929 and was enacted in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) in March 2004 with a draft amendment. The PPC holds sanctions against all parties (barring the minor), including the guardian, the nikah khawan, and the groom in cases of marriages in compensation for something and in which minors are involved. However, the lack of implementation and the law itself not providing strict enough sanctions is not the subject of my letter.

The most disturbing part of underage marriage or child marriage is not the fact that it happens often in Pakistan; it is the fact that people believe that this practice is not only legal but ethically correct according to Islam. Further, it is this belief about Islam that serves as a major hurdle in curbing such practices throughout the country.

Islam, in no way or form, recognises the practice of watta-satta. The practice of marrying one’s child off in exchange for something has been compared to a sale and is forbidden by Islam. It was a practice prevalent in pre-Islamic times and has been considered not only unethical but also unlawful by our religion.

Second, let’s talk about child marriages and the powers of the wali (guardian) with respect to Islam. Among the powers that the wali or legal guardian has in Islam, one is to contract marriage on behalf of the minor. But the rukhsati (sending off) is only done – and the marriage completed – once the minor turns a major and accepts the wali’s decision. The decision and will of the minor is very important. The marriage is only legal when the minor, after coming of age, accepts the marriage in full capacity.

It is people like the nikah khawan mentioned above, whom others with lesser knowledge of religion trust in matters of Islam, who are the culprits for misleading the population.

London, UK
Source: Daily Times

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